Artsource - Robert Faust & Eugene Friesen

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This is a magical cello. Only the most gifted fingers, and only a heart in tune with the voice of the wood, can play it.”


The Music Center’s Study Guide to the Performing Arts

luthier (a maker of stringed instruments) who crafts his masterpiece, a cello, from the wood of an ancient tree in his yard. The night of Carnival, he challenges the musicians of Venice to make his cello “sing.” A very proud and famous cellist comes forward and tries, but it is not easy. The play tells the story of his quest to discover the touch that will unlock the “voice of the wood.”

About The Artwork:


The commissioning of Voice of the Wood drew upon the specific talents of Eugene Friesen as cellist, composer and sound designer with Robert Faust as maskmaker, mask theatre artist and former dancer. Their expertise was organic to the roles and style of the stor y. They began by exploring each element of each page of the children’s book to see how scenes could be expanded upon with movement, dialogue and music. The book’s illustrations became the aesthetic for the set design and masks. Large canvas pages were painted in the style of the book’s illustrator, Frédéric Clément, to create the large book set piece. Animal masks of the cat, fox and lizardappearing as carnival masks in the book’s illustrations became actual characters in the on page 2)



From the book: Voice of the Wood by Claude Clément


4. (Cn)

Background Information:




Voice of the Wood is a play adapted from the exquisite children’s book by Claude Clément, and performed by Robert Faust and Eugene Friesen. A two-character piece utilizing masks and music, the story begins with a


Title of Work: Voice of the Wood

Eugene Friesen: Composer/Sound Designer/Performer

Photo: Faustwork Mask Theater

Voice of the Wood is an artistic collaboration between veteran artists Robert Faust and Eugene Friesen. Robert Faust is the founder and artistic director of Faustwork Mask Theater, whose company presents The Mask Messenger, a captivating theatre piece that uses a variety of expressive masks to illuminate and comment on the human condition. Eugene Friesen is Cello Man in a spellbinding performance with stories, songs, masks and inventive techniques on cello and electric cello. Faust’s extensive professional credits include work with leading companies such as Pilobolus Dance Theatre. He has performed worldwide in venues such as The Sydney Opera House, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Friesen has performed internationally as a soloist and chamber musician. As a member of the Paul Winter Consort, Eugene won a Grammy Award in 1994. For Voice of the Wood, Eugene Friesen is composer and sound designer; Robert Faust is director and maskmaker. Together they adapted the script for this imaginative, original production, which was commissioned by the Music Center Education Division.





Robert Faust: Director/Maskmaker/Performer

Creative Process of the Artist or Culture

• Artsource® video excerpt: Voice of the Wood, courtesy of Faustwork Mask Theater.

• Create a Toy Theatre production based on a favorite children’s book. Make small rod puppets of the main characters and transform a cardboard box into a miniature stage to enact a mini-performance of the story.

Commedia dell’Arte half-masks were used as depicted in the book as a stylistic choice, as well as to allow the two actors to speak and play multiple roles. Eugene researched the music of the late 1700s and chose works by Baroque cellist Domenico Gabrieli and the early solo cello music of Johann Sebastian Bach to inform the spirit of the time. From his vast experience of working with the recordings of natural sounds, Mr. Friesen integrated sound elements with his original cello composition to create the actual “voice” of the wood.

* * *

• Explore the creative possibilities of working with stage props by transforming a neutral prop, such as a staff, a scarf, a rope, etc., from one thing into another.

Creative Process Continued:

Multidisciplinar y Options:

• Write a stor y that has a musical instrument as a main character. The instrument characters may be personified, employing human traits and emotions, or they may appear as key elements in a story’s plot or action. Think about the materials used in making the instruments. Choose a style: folktale, fantasy, journey, mystery, personal history or science fiction.

Indicates sample lesson



• Study the Italian theatre style, Commedia dell’Arte, and its use of “stock characters.” Have students invent contemporar y characters based on the Commedia model and create improvisations from outlines or scenarios.

After the video or live performance has been viewed:

• One of the scenes takes place during Carnevale, an annual Venetian celebration of masks and revelry each February before Lent. It is similar to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras. Create carnival masks using feathers, glitter, fabric, etc. and plan your own parade.

• Earl, Amanda and Sensier, Danielle. Traditions Around the World: Masks. Thompson Learning, New York, NY: 1995.

• Photos: courtesy of Faustwork Mask Theater. Additional References:


Audio-Visual Materials:

• Clément, Claude. The Voice of the Wood. Dial Books, New York, NY: 1989.

• Street painting has been an Italian tradition since the 16th century in which artists called Madonnari use chalk as the medium and the pavement as their canvas to create works of art. Select a painting from an Italian master to copy onto the school yard blacktop. Work in chalk to reproduce it.

Discussion Questions:

• Think about the title, Voice of the Wood. Whose “voice” and what “wood” does it refer to?

• Music plays an important role in Voice of the Wood. What kinds of feelings did you have as you listened to the cello music at different points in the performance?

• How does the character of the cellist become transformed by the end of the play? How do the two actors transform themselves in order to play many roles?

Voice of the Wood takes place in Venice, Italy. Study a map of Italy noting the bodies of water which surround it and the other countries which border it. Locate Venice on the map and study its unique canal system. Read travel guides to learn about important sights to see. Divide students into small groups and have each group pick a different Italian city to study. The group should research the architecture, countr yside, museums, etc. of their city and choose five points of interest as subjects for original postcards. Examples: Rome: Colosseum; Florence: Ponte Vecchio; Vatican City: Sistine Chapel. Using colored pencils, students should draw each subject on a 3 X 5 index card. On the back, they can write to their teacher describing the locale on the front and its importance. Share postcards.

• How does the power of nature affect the story’s plot? How does it affect the conflict?


• Talk about how masks were used in the performance. Describe a masked character you remember.


Sample Experiences:

We can use our imaginations to change or transform ordinary objects or props into something else. For example, a simple object like a broom can become a dance partner or a long-handled fan. In Voice of the Wood, Robert Faust used a wooden dowel rod to represent a gondola’s oar. This exercise challenges students to use props creatively in a variety of ways.

Voice of the Wood Faustwork Mask Theater

Photo: Faustwork Mask Theater

• Discuss the concept of a neutral prop, an object that is simply used as its intended function without imagination or emotion.

• Describe, discuss, analyze and connect information and experiences based on this lesson. Refer to Assessment at the end of this lesson. (Responding & Connecting)

LEVEL I Sample Lesson

• Select a neutral prop, such as a bath towel, and ask a student to use it in a brief pantomime demonstrating ways that the prop is normally used - e.g., folding the towel, putting it away, or using it to dr y one’s hands after washing them.

OBJECTIVES: (Student Outcomes)

• Now ask another student to use the towel in a way that transforms it into an altogether different object. It could become a flag in a procession, a bullfighter’s cape, a handkerchief, a shield, etc.

Students will be able to:

• Neutral props: e.g., a scarf, a hoop, a rope, a rod, a towel, a shoe box


• The Artsource® video excerpt of Voice of the Wood.







• Demonstrate an understanding of the concept of a neutral prop. (Responding & Performing)

• Experiment with a selection of simple or neutral props, changing them from one thing into another. (Creating)

• maintain focus

• On a piece of 8 1/2" x 11" paper, draw a single image such as a triangle, a heart or a hexagon. Duplicate the sheet so that there are enough copies for each student and then challenge them to create a picture from the shape. Were all of the pictures different? What animals, people, objects or landscapes were created? Try the exercise again using a different image.

Emphasis on: Common Core - CA State Standards for Language - Reading; Writing; Listening; Speaking

• Have the class sit in a circle. Introduce another prop, for example a rod, and go into the center of the circle and demonstrate one way to use it. The rod could become a telescope, a flute, a baton, a giant pencil, etc. Use creative movement and sound effects to convey your ideas.

• Challenge students to experiment using props by endowing them with different qualities. For example, take a simple coffee cup and use it as if it were a truckstop mug. How do the different circumstances or qualities change the way the prop is handled?

ASSESSMENT: (Responding & Creating)

• be original - don’t repeat an idea done by another

•Criteria:beclear and specific in your idea

• Select a specific, ordinary object that will be used as a prop. Pass the prop from person to person around the circle. Whoever accepts it next must first use it as it was received, and then change it into something new by the way it is held and used. Pass the prop on.



DISCUSS: Discuss how movement or pantomime helped convey the essence of an object as it was changed from one thing into something new.

• use a posture or action that clearly communicates the idea

VOCABULARY: neutral prop, pantomime, endow

CONNECT: Think of an instance in daily life in which you had to use or improvise with an object in a new way for a particular outcome or purpose.

ANALYZE: Analyze which neutral props were the most successful in inspiring students’ imaginative uses or transformations.

• Continue passing new props around the circle until everyone has had a turn transforming at least one prop.

DESCRIBE: Describe a specific prop transformation that you liked the best. Give reasons for your choice.

TASK: Change a prop into something different than its ordinary function. Transform it into something new.

• Demonstrate manipulation skills using the rod puppet characters. (Performing)


• Improvise the Toy Theatre play based upon a selected children’s book. (Creating & Performing)

Photo: Faustwork Mask Theater

• Create rod puppet characters from a favorite children’s book. (Creating)

Voice of the Wood Faustwork Mask Theater

In countries all over the world, miniature theatres have fascinated men, women and children for nearly 200 years. In England it was called Juvenile Drama. In Germany it was Papiertheater, in Austria, Kindertheater, and in Spain, El Teatro del los Niños. Whatever the name, the art form known as Toy Theatre was really more than just a toy. The making and performing of small tabletop theatrical productions provides insight into the social aspects of the middle classes of the nineteenth century. In the days before radio and television, children amused themselves cutting out, pasting and preparing to perform a play at home. The stage designs, settings and characters that were available in newspapers and magazines created a unique form of children’s publishing which produced objects of charm and beauty. Due to the absence of photography, the scene and character sheets were often direct copies of live stage performances, so they can be considered archival documentation for research and preservation.



• Perform the Toy Theatre production using dialogue and movement. (Creating & Performing)

Students will be able to:

• Transform a cardboard box into a miniature theatre with a stage, backdrop and marquee. (Creating)

LEVEL II Sample Lesson


OBJECTIVES: (Student Outcomes)

• Describe, discuss, analyze and connect information and experiences based on this lesson. Refer to Assessment at the end of this lesson. (Responding & Connecting)


• Each group should now review their story analysis sheet describing the beginning, middle and end of their stor y. Using their completed rod puppets and miniature stage, have students improvise the dialogue and action. After sufficient rehearsal, have each group perform their Toy Theatre productions for the class.


• Introduce the concept of Toy Theatre by sharing the short background information.

• Next, have students examine their cardboard boxes and discuss how the stage opening will determine the scale, size, and proportion of their puppet characters.

• Using the story analysis as a guideline, have students choose characters to make into rod puppets. On white drawing paper, have students sketch the designs for their rod puppets.


• Now students are ready to transfer their character designs to tagboard or cardstock using pencils, markers, colored pencils, crayons, etc. When the designs are completed, they should be cut out and attached with tape to a bamboo skewer to create a rod puppet. Students should make sure they know how their puppet enters the mini-stage before attaching the skewer or rod. Example: a character of a sun, moon, star or bird would enter from above the stage, so the skewer would be attached vertically with the puppet at the end; a person, dog or cat would enter from the side of the stage, so the skewer would be attached horizontally with the puppet at the end.

• Next, have students use construction paper to create the backdrop for their Toy Theatre production. The backdrop should depict the main setting for the stor y. Students should also create the stage floor and any other set pieces like a tree, house, etc. that would be necessar y to enact the stor y.



• Cardboard box pre-cut by teacher, various colors of construction paper, white drawing paper, colored tagboard or cardstock, scissors, glue, bamboo skewers (points clipped), tape, pencils, lined paper, markers, colored pencils, crayons, etc.


• Now have students create the stage opening or proscenium arch. Using markers or crayons, have them make a marquee with the title of their book and place it above the stage.



• Have each group read their book aloud. Next, ask one group member to assume the role of recorder and write down a list of the story’s main characters, the setting(s) and a short description of the story’s beginning, middle and end.

• Divide the class into groups of four students and have each group select a children’s book to dramatize in a Toy Theatre production.

ANALYZE: Analyze how different groups designed their Toy Theatres. Did the groups use the book’s illustrations as inspiration or create original artwork? What was most effective? Why?


• Use the convention of Toy Theatre to create small puppet shows depicting scenes from American history with period settings and historical figures.

DESCRIBE: Describe the part of the Toy Theatre process that you enjoyed the most.

CONNECT: Discuss the relationship between students’ Toy Theatre productions and other puppet plays children have seen. How were they similar? How were they different? What elements are common to all live performances?

Emphasis on: Common Core - CA State Standards for Language - Reading; Writing; Listening; Speaking

ASSESSMENT: (Responding & Connecting)

VOCABULARY: rod puppet, toy theatre, proscenium arch, backdrop, marquee, stage, improvisation, manipulation, rehearse, perform

• Make hand puppets using a mitten-shaped fabric body. Use sequins, buttons, textile scraps, yarn, etc. for detail.


DISCUSS: Discuss the biggest challenge in taking your children’s book from a written medium to a live performance.

Students will be able to:

• Demonstrate an understanding of the Italian theatre style Commedia dell’Arte and its stock characters. (Responding & Connecting & Creating & Performing)

OBJECTIVES: (Student Outcomes)

• Introduce the concept of stock characters where a particular characteristic of human behavior is focused upon to the exclusion of virtually everything else. Share the short background information on the Commedia dell’Arte and supplement it with your own research, if possible.

• Invent a troupe of contemporary characters based on the Commedia model. (Creating & Performing)

Voice of the Wood draws upon the theatrical conventions of the Italian theatre style Commedia dell’Arte (meaning “professional comedy”). It originated in Venice, Italy and flourished during the 16th and 17th centuries as a form of popular comedy. In Commedia dell’Arte there were no scripts, but rather scenarios - short outlines of the plot and turning points of the action. The performers improvised or invented words and comic action to fill out a play. The characters were “stock characters” or stereotypes where one particular trait - greed, boastfulness, gullibility, etc.was the motivation for each character. The characters always wore the same costume and half-masks or makeup and the same actors always played the same parts.


• Paper, pencils or pens; costumes, set pieces; props as needed






LEVEL III Sample Lesson

Voice of the Wood Faustwork Mask Theater Photo: Faustwork Mask Theater

• Describe, discuss, analyze and connect information and experiences based on this lesson. Refer to Assessment at the end of this lesson. (Responding & Connecting)



Arlechino - a peasant boy working as a servant in the big city; he wore a costume of colored diamond patchwork, a broad-brimmed hat with a rabbit or fox tail, a black leather half-mask, and carried a wooden sword.

Divide into groups of five. Brainstorm a list of stereotyped or stock characters with one dominant personality trait. Give each character a name and then select a key costume or prop for them. Write an outline or scenario from which to improvise, detailing the plot events.

•Criteria:Theremust be straight characters and exaggerated characters to successfully create comedy.

Harlequin - a cunning, but stupid ser vant who was always involved in the heart of the plot complications.

• Next begin a discussion about comic stock characters the students recognize as part of contemporary culture. Make a list on the blackboard of stereotypes such as the nerd, the jock, the cheerleader, the dumb blond, etc. Think about popular, contemporar y comedians that do impressions, and their repertoire of comic characters and bits.

Capitano - a bragging soldier, who invariably proved to be a coward.

• The actors had a set of speeches and well-polished routines for their characters. They also developed lazzi, or extended bits of comic business usually using some prop like a sword, handkerchief, food, etc. which were part of their comedic personalities. As you introduce the Commedia characters, ask the class to use their imaginations to visualize each one.

• Each person choose a specific character to portray.

• Include opportunities for all characters to enter, participate in the action, and exit.

Dottore - a pompous lawyer, often the father of a young man.

Colombina - a worldly-wise maid servant and partner to Arlechino.

The Lovers - a pair of young lovers who were attractive, well-dressed, and spoke poetically; a Commedia plot often centered around some obstacle to their marriage.

• Some of the typical characters were:

• Perform the improvised plays for the class.

• The stock characters of the Commedia were divided into three categories: masters, lovers and servants.

Pantalone - an elderly, miserly merchant, often the suitor of a young woman.

Allow the groups ample time to rehearse (this may take several sessions).

• Research and read a Commedia dell’Arte scenario (eight-hundred are still in existence).

DISCUSS: Discuss ways in which the contemporary characters students created relate to the stock characters of the Commedia dell’Arte.

DESCRIBE: Describe your feelings as a performer about how it felt to improvise with other group members’ characters.

VOCABULARY: Commedia dell’Arte, scenario, plot, dialogue, action, improvise, stock character, stereotype, troupe, lazzi

• Find engravings of Commedia masks in theatre history books and make Commedia-style half-masks out of paper-maché and paint.

ASSESSMENT: (Responding & Connecting)

CONNECT: Give examples of television situation comedies that use recognizable stock characters as part of the cast. Give examples of feature films that use a stock character as the major concept or title character for a motion picture.

Emphasis on: Common Core - CA State Standards for Language - Reading; Writing; Listening; Speaking

ANALYZE: Analyze how choosing one dominant character trait helped students develop a character’s posture, gestures, walk, vocal quality, facial expressions, etc.